Valencia County, New Mexico

As described by the Territorial act of January 9, 1852, dividing New Mexico into nine counties, Valencia had the following bounds: On the south, drawing a line from a point between the town of Jose Pino and the house of Jose Antonio Chavez toward the east in the direction of the Bocas de Abo, and continuing said line along the Gabilan mountain until it terminates with the boundaries of the Territory; drawing a direct line from the starting point of the eastern line, crossing the Rio del Norte, touching the dividing line between Belen and Sabinal; continuing the line in the direction of the Puerto de la Bolita de Oro until it terminates with the boundary of the Territory; on the north to be bounded by the county of Bernalillo.

Valencia is in the first tier of western counties, and has as its northern neighbor the old county of Bernalillo and the new county of McKinley, and, as its southern, Socorro, also one of the original nine counties, but now sadly reduced in territory. The county of Valencia has a population of 14,000 and an area of 9,400 square miles.

Resources of the County

Even after the cutting off of the county of Torrance in 1904, Valencia remained one of the largest counties in New Mexico, being a little larger than New Hampshire and smaller than Vermont. The valley of the Rio Grande in its southeastern portion is its garden spot, producing good crops of wheat, barley, oats, corn, beans, chile peppers, alfalfa and fruits. The greatest spread of orchards is in the neighborhood of Los Lunas, the county seat, and Belen, the largest town and commercial center. In the valleys of the San Jose, peaches and grapes are the staple fruit crops, and there are single farms that yield tens of thousands of pounds of the Mission grape.

Among connoisseurs the wine and brandy of Valencia County have a high reputation. Only the finest fruit is used to distill brandy, and the wine is made of pure juice without artificial sweetening. To satisfy those who prefer a very sweet wine, the vintners take the residue of the grapes after the wine is made, press it and boil the juice down to a thick syrup. This is added to the wine as a sweetener. The Mission grape is almost as sugary as a raisin, and its wine really needs no added sugar.

In addition to the Rio Grande valley, the valleys of the San Jose and the Rio Puerco are very fertile, and in the different settlements all along them small grains and fruits are raised in abundance.

The highlands, valleys and hillsides are covered with rich grass, and the numerous springs and creeks make it possible to produce wool, mutton and beef at low cost. The wool industry has proven to be the most profitable, and some of the wealthiest men in New Mexico have derived their revenues from the prosecution of this industry in Valencia county. The Rio Grande valley of the county has always been the home of many of the wealthiest and most influential families among the Spanish population, and from here nearly all the governors who were residents of New Mexico were appointed.

The mineral resources of Valencia County are extremely varied. A few miles west of the Rio Grande the coal measures begin, and extend almost in a continuous body to the western boundary, including an area nearly a hundred miles long by fifty wide. Coal crops out on all the higher mesas. Salt is found in large quantities in the Zuni Mountains, the lakes of brine in that region being well known. There are gold and copper mines in this district. Gypsum is found near El Rito, adjoining the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad, and is considered very valuable as a fertilizer. In the western part of the county along the line of the same road are extensive deposits of sandstone and granite and other building stone.


Los Lunas, the county seat, is beautifully situated in the Rio Grande valley, on die main line of the A., T. & S. F. At this point for miles the valley presents a continuous succession of prosperous looking farms and orchards, with an occasional post office and surrounding settlement. But the greatest commercial development is further south, with Belen as its center.

With the construction of that portion of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway system, known as the Belen Cut-Off, in 1904-0, the section of the Territory immediately affected began to develop very rapidly. The town of Belen, at first little more than a railroad construction camp, developed into a place of 1,200 people in 1906. The site is now owned by the Belen Town and Improvement Company, of which John Becker is president and William M. Becker, secretary. In 1905-6 a public schoolhouse was erected at a cost of $16,000; a commercial club was organized; a roller flour mill was built, with a capacity of 150 barrels per day; a large winery was established, and a weekly newspaper, the Belen Tribune, began publication, under the management of William M. Berger. The Commercial Club was incorporated January 8, 1906, by Charles Reinken (president): William M. Berger (vice-president), H. Emory Davis (secretary), and John Becker, Jr. (treasurer), and erected a two-story brick building costing $8,000. The railroad works at Belen include a large roundhouse, a forty-eight pocket coal chute, a handsome Harvey eating house, somewhat after the design of the Castenada at Las Vegas, a Harvey curio shop, a commodious depot, offices, etc. The railroad yards are a mile and a half long, six hundred feet wide, and will contain upward of sixty miles of track. Large quantities of wood, hay, beans, flour, fruit and wine are shipped annually. The railroad has allowed the impression to go forth that all fast limited, mail and freight trains, will pass over this part of the line, making a great saving in distance and time between Chicago and the Pacific coast.

In the northwestern part of the county, in what is called the San Mateo country, near Mount Taylor, are San Mateo, San Rafael and Cubero, Mexican towns of importance, and in the far west, in the Zuni district, is the Mormon town of Ramah.

Some Early Settlers

Ridener & Baker, a wholesale grocery firm of Kansas City, with Jose Joseph E. Saint, entered the cattle business in 1883, organized a corporation known as the Acoma Land & Cattle Company, with headquarters at Acoma station. Their operations were quite extensive for many years, but they suffered severe financial reverses about 1894.

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Source: History of New Mexico, Its Resources and People, Volume II, Pacific States Publishing Co., 1907.

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Created 1996 by Charles Barnum & 2016 by Judy White

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